In 24 years of teaching and coaching basketball at Los Angeles Fairfax, Harvey Kitani says he has never come across a 17-year-old quite like Duke-bound senior Jamal Boykin.
"I look at him for inspiration," Kitani said. "He's made me a better person, a better coach, a better dad. He's just unbelievable."
Boykin's work ethic, leadership qualities and everyday positive outlook on life have had a profound effect on Fairfax, which will play top-seeded Westchester (20-3) for the City Championship on Saturday night at the Forum.
It will be the fourth consecutive City final for 6-foot-7 Boykin, who is averaging 22.8 points and 12.1 rebounds. He has never come away victorious in the final. Twice Westchester beat his team. Last season, it was Woodland Hills Taft.
"I'm approaching this game as someone who's going to give all he has," he said. "This is it for me."
From the moment he walks into a gym, Boykin starts preparing his mind and body as few others do.
It's 90 minutes before tipoff, and he takes out a jump rope and starts loosening up as if he's getting ready for a boxing match. Then he practices his post moves, working harder than some players do in a game.
He takes breaks to shake hands and offer hugs to friends and acquaintances, all of whom want to feel and feed his energy.
Finally, when his name is announced in the starting lineup and he runs onto the court, his face contorts into one of pure determination.
"It's what I feel I need to do to succeed," he said. "I have to go the extra mile and become more athletic. I'm like a sponge. Whenever I find something to help me, I add it."
Maybe he should be called General Boykin, Coach Boykin or Professor Boykin, because his teammates are willing to do whatever he asks.
"He's the best leader I've ever seen," sophomore forward Chace Stanback said. "He's always working hard and won't let anyone slack off. He's all about business, and I respect that."
As much effort as Boykin puts into basketball, he's hardly a single-subject individual. As a student in Fairfax's visual arts magnet program, he's an accomplished sketch artist who participates in drama and leadership classes.
On Nerd Day, he showed up for school wearing a bow tie. He once missed the basketball bus because he was watching a play.
Every Sunday, in the morning and at night, he attends Figueroa Church of Christ.
"Sunday is the Lord's day," he said.
Boykin had an easy excuse for what was arguably the worst performance of his high school career, a seven-point effort against Taft in last year's City final.
On game day, he woke up at 5 a.m. to help church members feed people in need. Later, his father made him mow the front and back yards, reinforcing the notion that "the whole world can't stop for basketball."
Boykin, though, learned his lesson. The lawn has already been mowed, and his Saturday schedule has been cleared except for one appointment: a 5 p.m. rematch against Westchester, which hasn't lost a City playoff game since 1999 and has beaten Fairfax by margins of eight and four points this season.
Win or lose, it won't be the final high school game for Boykin. The Lions (24-4) have clinched a spot in the state playoffs, where they are the defending Division I champions.
But a City championship is the one achievement Boykin wants to experience, not just for himself but for everyone who has supported him through his high school years.
"I think I've gotten the most any kid could get out of the high school experience," he said. "I did more than play basketball and go to class."
What Boykin has taught those who've met him along the way is the meaning of hard work and the importance of being a good person.
"This kid will make any journey the most enjoyable journey a coach can have," Kitani said.
Eric Sondheimer can be reached at email@example.com.